9 Skin Secrets We Learned From Asia
Between all the trends on TikTok (chlorophyll, anyone?) and scoping out celebrity routines, we’re always on a mission to test and trial the latest and greatest in the beauty scene. But more often than not, these “new” hacks and tricks aren’t as innovative as we may think. Take a few minutes to read up on the historical timeline of how many of our favorite skincare habits came to be and you’ll discover lots of these trending skincare ingredients and rituals that appear new to us have had roots in other cultures for centuries. Considering the mass influence K-beauty has had, it probably comes as no surprise that we owe credit to Asia for many of the products we restock again and again.
The list of Asia-derived ingredients and rituals is pretty endless, but read on as board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jenny Liu, MD FAAD, and clinical dermatologist and researcher Dr. Ailynne Vergara, MD talk to us about their favorites.
Double CleansingThe opener for K-beauty’s legendary 10-step skincare routine, double cleansing has become a staple considering it’s the best way to make sure all the gunk on your skin is really gone after washing your face. “Double cleansing is a great way to remove makeup [and] sunscreen more effectively without using harsh cleansers”, Dr. Liu says. According to reports, the practice stems from both Korea and Japan; Japanese geishas would double cleanse to fully dissolve their white makeup. “The idea is using ‘like to dissolve like’, first using an oil-based cleanser or cleansing balm to remove waterproof makeup or sunscreen, followed by a water-based cleanser to remove rest of the impurities.”
Also known as Gan Cao 甘草, which means ‘sweet root’, this herb is a staple in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Herbalists tote its anti-inflammatory properties as a way to improve digestion and heal sore throats. Because it’s also anti-melanogenic, adds Dr. Liu, in skincare “it's most commonly used to brighten skin and improve hyperpigmentation. However, it may also provide some benefits to inflammatory conditions like eczema and acne.” She recommends licorice root as a beneficial pregnancy-safe choice for treating dark spots and uneven tone, perhaps as an alternative to retinol. Find licorice root, along with vitamin C, in our Brightening Serum.
You’ve probably seen tools for Gua Sha all over Instagram (it’s hard to scroll past its sleek stone, especially when it comes in double-tap-worthy rose quartz or jade), but this TCM ritual dates back to 220 CE. The practice, whose name literally means ‘to scrape sand’, involves physically scraping the skin to encourage lymphatic drainage and improve blood flow. TCM experts also believe gua sha can help move stagnant energy, also known as qi/chi, balancing out our systems and releasing tension. Traditionally, gua sha was performed on the body but modern adaptations of the practice extend to the face, too, using it to reduce puffiness, contour face shape, and even brighten undereye circles. While there isn’t much scientific evidence that backs up these benefits, many find a gua sha to be a soothing part of their skincare regimen regardless. A tool-free alternative, Koko Hayashi swears by her face yoga practice to reap similar benefits.
Jade RollerAnother popularized skincare tool with Asian roots is the jade roller. This ‘stone of heaven’, as it’s been referred to for thousands of years in China, was invented during the Qing dynasty as a form of facial massage. This aesthetically pleasing tool involves rolling jade in an upwards motion over the face. Similar to the gua sha, jade rollers are touted for their ability to improve lymphatic drainage and reduce puffiness due to the stone’s natural coolness. They’re also a soothing way to apply serums, oils, and creams. Scientifically, cool temperatures can be quite the remedy for reducing inflammation (which is another reason why many store facial tools in the fridge) and many experts cosign the skin benefits of a facial massage—even if it’s just temporary depuffing. According to Dr. Vergara, massages are highly praised in Asian culture for “reducing stress and promoting better circulation for the skin and body, making jade rollers [and] acupuncture so popular.”
GinsengThis herbal remedy has been touted since 196 CE when its benefits were written in an early text about TCM. It’s a slow-growing root native to Asia that takes 6 years to harvest. While its early usage were more medicinal, today K-beauty experts swear by ginseng for its ability to restore skin firmness, prevent premature aging, quell inflammation, and control oiliness. It’s often compared to coffee for its energizing abilities, boosting circulation and rejuvenating tired complexions, too. Tap on ginseng extract using Vacation Eyes to treat dark circles and bags.
Rice WaterFrom Japan to Korea to India, rice water has been a well-kept secret in Asian culture for centuries. This clean ingredient is created by adding water to (clean) rice, mixing it around, draining the grains, and using the leftover milky liquid as part of your routine (it’s quite sustainable too, considering you can cook the rice afterward). Koreans use it as a toner, Ayurvedic practitioners swear by its ability to heal eczema, and the Japanese used it during the Heian period to strengthen and lengthen their hair. According to Dr. Liu, it’s worth the hype, too. Rice water “contains numerous peptides, antioxidants, and other bioactives. It helps to hydrate, brighten, and soothe inflamed skin. Fermented rice (sake) has also been shown to improve signs of aging.”
TurmericFun fact: This spice’s vibrant orange and yellow hue helped spike trade between India and Asia around 800 CE, as it was used to dye the garbs of Buddhist and Hindu priests and monks. Nowadays, you can sip on it in the form of a latte, use it while cooking, or yes, apply it to your face. It’s ultra brightening, evening out tone and reducing discoloration. Turmeric is also anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiseptic, making it a great addition to your routine if you struggle with acne or dullness (precisely why it’s in our Brightening, Tightening Mask).
Snail MucinYes, you read that correctly: this ingredient, extracted from actual snails, is an ‘it’ ingredient when it comes to K-beauty. “Snail secretion filtrate is huge in Asia.”, Dr. Vergara agrees. We know it sounds gross, but snail mucin can help you achieve that ‘glass skin’ aesthetic so many of us look up to. “The gel-like consistency works great for moisturizers, it has shown to help repair damage, reduce redness, and even help acne.”
Essence and AmpoulesMany of us have the correct order to apply our skincare down pat, but if you’re exploring K-beauty, you might come across an unfamiliar term like essence or ampoule, which aren’t as ubiquitous in Western culture. “Essence in my mind is like a liquid serum. It’s the first step after cleansing”, says Dr. Liu. This ‘beauty water’, as it’s sometimes called, has a lightweight, watery consistency. “Although it may look similar to a ‘toner’, it's hydrating and contains active ingredients in higher concentrations, similar to a serum. It intends to provide additional skin benefits (hydration, brightening, etc) that are not present in a skincare routine.” Ampoules, on the other hand, are very similar in look and feel to serums. The key difference is that ampoules tend to have very high concentrations of potent ingredients, such as vitamins. Just like a serum, ampoules are often used to target specific skin concerns such as acne or wrinkles.
From green to chamomile, many tea ingredients found in our skincare stem from Asia, too. Here’s how the different types of tea can benefit your skin concerns.